Jaundice is a yellow coloring in your baby’s skin, and sometimes, the whites of the eyes. Newborn jaundice happens during the first weeks of life.
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The yellow coloring is caused by bilirubin. Bilirubin is a waste product. The body makes it when red blood cells are broken down. Bilirubin normally passes out of the body through feces or urine. Jaundice happens when there is a buildup of bilirubin. This can happen when:
Newborn jaundice is more common in East Asian babies as well as babies who are very sick or born early. It is also more common in babies who have a sibling who was treated for jaundice. Other things that may raise the risk are:
The main symptom of jaundice is yellow skin color. It often starts in the face and may spread to the stomach and legs.
All babies are checked for jaundice at birth and at 3 to 5 days of age. The doctor will ask about your baby’s symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the baby's skin.
Tests may be:
Most babies will not need treatment. Jaundice often goes away in 2 to 3 weeks. Babies who do need treatment may need:
Increased breastfeeding can help clear bilirubin from a baby's body. Babies who are formula-fed will need to get extra formula.
Phototherapy uses special lights to change the bilirubin in the blood. The bilirubin can then pass in the urine or stool.
Babies with severe jaundice may need a blood transfusion. This will replace the baby’s blood with new blood. The excess bilirubin will be removed with the blood.
Newborn jaundice cannot always be prevented. The risk can be lowered by frequent feedings in the first several days after birth.
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
March of Dimes
Public Health Agency of Canada
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Maisels MJ, Watchko JF, et al. An approach to the management of hyperbilirubinemia in the preterm infant less than 35 weeks of gestation. J Perinatol. 2012 Sep;32(9):660-664.
Neonatal cholestasis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/neonatal-cholestasis-18. Updated March 14, 2017. Accessed September 21, 2017.
Neonatal hyperbilirubinemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/neonatal-hyperbilirubinemia. Updated September 23, 2019. Accessed January 7, 2020.
Neonatal hyperbilirubinemia. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pediatrics/metabolic_electrolyte_and_toxic_disorders_in_neonates/neonatal_hyperbilirubinemia.html. Updated December 2018. Accessed January 7, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD Last Updated: 7/28/2020